People ask me why I retired.
Towards the end of my teaching career I had grown to detest grading freshman essays to a degree that had become life-threatening. I had to do breathing exercises, calmness meditation, and plead with the gods for fortitude before I could even look at those folders. I had to be careful not to put them in stacks for fear of cardiac arrest at the sight. And even then I had to proceed with palpitations, trembling, cold sweat, and shortness of breath. Like my regular attributing of malevolent motives to inanimate objects, it was a response out of proportion to the cause—but I was powerless to change it.
Since sitting in my office with those papers in the creepy late afternoon began to feel terrifying, I tried the evasive maneuver of taking (a few of) the hated folders to the library where I always had the third-floor faculty lounge to myself with a view over the campus and Vernon Street. One day, after I had taken twenty slow deep breaths, opened a folder and read the first, thankfully grammatically complete, sentence ten times trying to get it to catch, I saw across the way a man enter the back door of my building, Manget, and I knew he had come to kill me. I didn’t know why, or who he was, I only knew it was so.
So you see, I had no choice. I slipped out the west utility door, and kept going.
September 10, 2018
I once wrote a very bad play, with good characters. Not morally good, you understand, just real. The play of course went nowhere but the characters took up in my house and wouldn’t leave. They crept into my bed, they hogged the bathroom, ate my food, smoked my stuff and drank all my wine. They had nothing to do and were massively bored. They had no past to inspire nostalgia, and no future, unless I gave them one, but I had lost interest in them and knew the only way to get rid of them was to forget them.
But how much luck have you ever had trying to forget something?
It was somewhere between a bad marriage and a haunted house. They hung around for a couple of years. I didn’t really forget them, I just got so used to them I stopped seeing them, and when I did, they were beginning to look transparent, with whole sections of their bodies missing. A couple melded into one. They had had emotion in the early days—hostility, resentment, ambition—but now the fuel was spent and all I could feel from them was a sickly malaise. They took up in corners, under tables, in closets. One went outside and never came back. I think he’s in the shed. And sure enough, as they withdrew I did fall into the habit of forgetting them, more or less, and they became too insubstantial to really have a presence in my mind.
Except for one. The grandfather. He settled into the back room, and I closed the door for good. I have no idea what he does in there, but I think he just waits, knowing that whoever forgets the other first wins.
September 17, 2018